The photographs in this report are taken from a few cimetaries near the Boston area, namely Marblehead, Salem, Ingham and Boston. These burial grounds go back to the earliest days of the European settlements of Massachusetts.
There is an interesting article by Jessie Lie Farber (Early American Gravestones Introduction to the Farber Gravestone Collection) in which it is said that grave stones are america's earliest sculptures. Most head stones face west; according to the mentioned article, the body was laid feet to the east and head to the west so that when the cock's crow on judgement day would sound, the resurrested dead would face dawn. Headstones and footstones (between whcih the body way burried) would hold their inscriptions away from the grave so that visitors could read the grave stone without walking on the grave; today, many footstones have been moved against the headstone to facilitate the mowing of the lawn.
Seventeenth century stones mostly show skulls (winged or with cross bone). This is tied to the puritan's culture; a winged skull would represent physical death alongside spiritual regeneration. In the Eighteenth century, the skull is progressively replaced by a cherub's face which would represent the soul's ascent to heaven. I had the idea once of applying a sheet of thin paper on a stone and rub a piece of charcoal or pencil so to get the inscriptions but after looking this up to see if one was allowed to do that, I found out it is forbidden and for good reason even if this may not seem like a big deal. Some of these stones are already very fragile but even if that wasn't the case, this would eventually contribute progressively to their wearing down.